I’m feeling pretty miserable at the moment, with a head cold that’s gone south into my throat, so really everything above my shoulders is a serious biohazard zone. Tasting wine in this state would be miserable, both for me and for anyone who had to read my notes. Fortunately though, when I’m not sick, I drink faster than I write, so I have a backlog of photos and notes that just need the research and writing to make up my normal format. So here’s one that I tasted earlier, when I wasn’t completely miserable, the Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008.
I’m getting to the point that I think my posts are becoming half and half new material and ground that I’ve already covered. For every Nielluccio from Patrimonio where it’s a new grape and a new region, I write about a Syrah from San Antonio Valley. I certainly enjoyed both wines, but given a choice between the familliar and the unfamiliar, I’m always keen to try something new. However, to only write about the obscure gives a very skewed picture of the world of wine, and so while I’ve written about a Gamay and a Lagrein from the Mornington Peninsula, the region is best known for Pinot Noir, both of which are worth a quick recap.
The Mornington Peninsula is the arm of land that extends south from east of Melbourne, curving westward toward Geelong to almost enclose Port Phillip, the large natural harbour immediately south of Melbourne. I wrote briefly about the region when I covered the Point Leo Road Lagrein, but really only spoke about how it’s a cool(ish) climate, at least when compared with most wine producing regions of Australia. I wrote that soil types vary, which is certainly true, but I think I can do a bit better, particularly as there’s a fair amount of detail available.
There are three areas of exposed granite along the north and north western edge of the region, extruded volcanic basaltic rocks, quartz stones and pebbles, and various sediments. These give four distinct soil types, with a two layer yellow soil over clay found near Dromana in the north, red soil from the eroding basalt in the centre around Red Hill and Main Ridge, brown duplex soil near Merricks in the south east, and sandy soils in the central north at Moorooduc. Where Willow Creek is based is in the middle of a triangle formed by Moorooduc, Red Hill and Merricks, and their soils vary from the volcanic red soils associated with Red Hill to the grey sandy loams of Moorooduc.
As I mentioned, Mornington Peninsula is best know for Pinot Noir. Chardonnay and Pinot Gris/Grigio are widely planted as well, though with over 200 producers based in the region, there’s a growing collection of alternative varieties as well. Of those producers, the vast majority are small. Between the boutique nature of most of the production and the close proximity to Melbourne, the region as a whole does well out of tourism, and is cultivating a fine food culture as well.
I want to write something more about the wine style of the Mornington Peninsula, but beyond small scale, cool climate, and New World, the only thing I can think to add is relatively young. While there are records of very small scale viticulture going back (on and off) to the 19th century, the industry as it stands today was only founded in the 1970s and is not as yet as well known internationally as many other Australian wine regions. I put that down in part to the small quantities of wine produced across many producers, and also that the selling point of an Australian cool climate perhaps doesn’t resonate as well on the world stage when globally it’s not difficult to find wine regions that are in fact much cooler. Still, I think it has a well established reputation within Australia and some key players, such as Ten Minutes by Tractor, Port Phillip Estate and Kooyong (and certainly others) are making waves internationally.
Willow Creek Vineyard is based on a property that was first settled as a farm in 1876, but vines weren’t planted until 1988 when it was acquired by three families who planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. At close to 25 years old, their vines are apparently among the oldest in the region, which just goes to underscore how young the region is as a whole. The first vintage was in 1991 and a winery was constructed on the site in 1998, as well as a cellar door and restaurant. Winemaking it broadly described as non-interventionist, which is one of those terms which I’m sure everyone means when they say it, but what the term itself means can vary a great deal. In addition to varietal wines of the original varieties planted, they produce a Shiraz, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir rosé, and a sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, medium garnet, with slow thick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity notes of strawberry, sweet spice, sour cherry, and dried herbs. On the palate it’s dry, (though somewhat fruit sweet – not residual sugar), with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus flavour, medium plus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, and medium length. There are notes of sour cherry, some herbs, a bit of oak, some pencil shavings, and black pepper on the finish.
I’ll rate this wine as good, but not without some reservations. It was very big for a Pinot Noir, even from the New World, both in terms of intensity and alcohol. I think some of the sweetness I put down to fruit may have also been alcohol. The bottle says 14% ABV which is on the high side for this grape, particularly from a cool climate. Then again, compared to a Shiraz from Barossa it’s almost delicate. The flavours and complexity certainly said Pinot Noir, so it might just have been that 2008 was a hot vintage. I look forward to trying some other Mornington Peninsula vintages to compare and contrast.